Billed as a white-sand “beach in a bottle,” Florida-based Bushwacker Spirits liqueur is building on Alabamians’ love for the frozen cocktail by the same name. The three-year-old company is expanding its presence in the state, including opening a second office in Alabaster in November.
The Alabama connection makes sense. The founders, Carter Echols and Michael Smith, grew up together in Marengo County. Each attended Alabama colleges and maintained professional ties to the state after graduating.
Plus, the milkshake-like bar drink that inspired the longtime friends to start Bushwacker Spirits is so beloved here, the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism bureau promotes a Bushwacker Trail listing nearly two dozen area locales that serve their own variation on the libation.
At Pirates Cove in Elberta, the Bushwacker and signature cheeseburger even are enshrined on the list of “100 Dishes to Try in Alabama” compiled by the state Tourism Department.
“Alabama means a ton to us and our company,” Smith says. “It’s here that we first became friends, and it’s here that we had our first taste of the traditional Bushwacker cocktail. Alabama was also an integral part in our early success as a company. It was one of the first states where our product was available to the public, and it will continue playing a critical role in our company’s success as the home base for our growing marketing operations team.”
Sold in liquor stores throughout the state, the bottled Bushwacker is a relatively mild 17 percent alcohol. In addition to Caribbean rum, it is made from cream, coconut, coffee and chocolate flavors, and caramel coloring.
The cocktail—some liken it to a White Russian on a Caribbean vacation—has a relatively short but colorful history. The tropical tipple was created in 1975 by Angie Conigliaro, the bartender at the Ship’s Store on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As the story goes, a couple staying at the Sapphire Village resort visited the bar with their Afghan hound, Bushwack, and fell in love with Conigliaro’s concoction. Bushwack the dog drew plenty of admirers, too, so Conigliaro decided to name her drink in its honor.
The new drink quickly spread among island bars, and visiting bartenders took it back to their own places. The Sandshaker bar, located not far from the Alabama border in Pensacola, Fla., claims to have introduced the Bushwacker to the United States.
The Bushwaker quickly became a sensation all along the Gulf Coast. For many, a trip to an Alabama beach is not complete without enjoying at least one.
That group includes Echols and Smith, whose friendship dates to growing up in the Black Belt town of Lindon. They bonded playing football, basketball, and baseball together in high school, and fishing in a family pond.
Echols attended Auburn University and worked 20 years at his parents’ grocery store in Lindon. After attending the University of West Alabama and Troy University, Smith built swimming pools and developed websites for a living.
They were looking for partnership opportunities when inspiration struck. They realized that while Bushwackers were ubiquitous in Gulf Coast bars, no one had bottled a ready-to-drink version. They set up shop in Sarasota, Fla., to scratch that niche.
Bushwacker Spirits is widely distributed across Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
The company’s website includes recipes for drinks to enjoy year-round. Bushwacker also shared a few holiday-themed cocktails with SoulGrown. Each makes two servings.
Bushwacker White (Sand) Christmas Martini
4 ounces Bushwacker Spirits Coconut Rum Cream
4 ounces vanilla vodka
2 ounces sweetened condensed milk
Combine Bushwacker, vodka, condensed milk, and ice in a shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a candy cane.
Candy Cane Bushwacker Martini
Candy canes or peppermints (optional)
White chocolate chips (optional)
6 ounces Bushwacker Spirits Coconut Rum Cream
2 ounces peppermint schnapps
If you opt to decorate your glass, place the candy canes or peppermints in a sealable bag and crush with a rolling pin. Next, melt the white chocolate in a microwave on a flat plate. Dip a martini glass upside down in the melted white chocolate, then in the crushed peppermint. Place in the refrigerator to set the chocolate.
Combine Bushwacker, schnapps, and ice in a shaker and blend vigorously. Strain into martini glasses (decorated or not). If you have extra candy canes, hang them on the edge of the glass.
Eggnog Bushwacker Cocktail
4 ounces Bushwacker Spirits Coconut Rum Cream
4 ounces eggnog (not spiked)
2 ounces whiskey (your choice)
Combine Bushwacker, eggnog, whiskey, and ice in a shaker, mix, and strain into a glass. Top with whipped cream and nutmeg.